He is not just number 17 | Inquirer Opinion

He is not just number 17

Almost two weeks ago, my cousin was killed in an ambush while on his way home. Two others who were in his car, the driver and a policeman who just hitched a ride, were also killed. The car was riddled with bullets; the police later said they recovered more than three dozen shell casings fired from a single assault rifle. The attackers clearly wanted to make sure nobody survived.

But one person survived: my cousin’s wife, who was sitting beside him. My cousin instinctively used his body to shield her from the hail of gunfire. He bore the brunt of the attack. “That’s true love,” a friend told me. That does not make his killing easier to accept.


News reports said my cousin, the mayor of Sudipen, La Union, was the 17th elected official killed under the Duterte administration. All the reports I have read about his ambush say he was the 17th; not one of them failed to add that he was the 17th. But being a number means nothing to my cousin’s young children, his wife, his parents, his siblings and all those whose lives he touched.

Have we as a nation become so desensitized that we no longer think there is something wrong when we just see victims of senseless killings as mere statistics? According to the government, about 4,000 people have been killed in the antinarcotics campaign, although others say it could be up to 20,000. Have we stopped caring about the people behind the figures?


When we get too absorbed in death tallies, those who have died become mere numbers, no longer human beings with families and friends. They are parents, sons, daughters, spouses—a student who pleaded that he not be killed because he had a school test the next day, a cancer patient so thin his killers thought he was a drug addict, and so on. The statistics do not say that.

My cousin Alan is not just another statistic.

I will always remember him as a very quiet person. Whenever our clan would hold gatherings in our parents’ hometown, he would greet us then sit quietly on the sidelines. He wouldn’t speak often—not because he was standoffish, but because he was just reserved.

He was a humble man. When he became mayor, he was the same Alan we had known since we were young; he did not change. He was not one to shout about his achievements, something quite unusual for a Filipino politician.

Alan was special to us, and it makes me furious when he is referred to as number 17.

At what point did we as a nation start thinking that killing a person is an acceptable shortcut to achieving something, be it getting rid of a drug problem, reducing crime, getting back at someone who wronged you or who you did not agree with, settling a business dispute, or making sure another person wins in an election?

Why have people become so brazen that they have come to believe that they can get away with murder? In that Oct. 1 attack, my cousin’s killers used an assault rifle, and it is assumed that they reloaded the weapon with another magazine—to make sure they finished off everyone in the car. Why are we no longer shocked that Armalite rifles are used in these killings?


My cousin Alan was a loving husband and father, a dutiful son, a thoughtful brother, a hardworking public official, a devoted friend, a kind relative. He made a difference in many people’s lives.

Alexander “Alan” Oliver Buquing is not just number 17.

Stella Oliver Gonzales is a journalist at the Financial Times in London.

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TAGS: crime, Killing, senseless killing, Shooting
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